Role of Lactobacillus reuteri in Human Health and Disease
The Covid-19 pandemic has laser focused our attention on the potential frailties of the human condition. It provides an oft neglected lens through which to view human health versus disease. What enables one person to remain well, while another submits to illness?
There are a great many factors that play a role in this equation; many start in the gut. The digestive system tracks from the oral cavity to the anus; a long, winding and complex structure with almost superhuman qualities. In fact, many of these qualities come from the gut’s extraordinary inhabitants; those who live within the digestive walls and contribute to our wellbeing, but aren’t quite human.
There are trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi residing within the gut. Their role is incredibly varied and essential: to ferment dietary fiber and mucus, to encourage the growth of special microbes, to provide energy to the cells of the colon, to fight off local cancer cells, to signal fullness, to regulate hormones, to protect against the invasion of foreign invaders, and to ensure the health of the bugs themselves.
Yet poor diet, high-intensity sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, medications including proton pump inhibitors and antibiotics, and stress may reduce the required microbial diversity and harm the gut wall. Goodness knows there is ample stress in our world right now! This can lead to an increase in the numbers of detrimental microorganisms, a reduction in healthful strains like Lactobacillus reuteri, and a negative affect on health and immunity.
Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri) is an important, well studied and beneficial bacteria that helps to heal the gut, enhance immunity, and improve our wellbeing. Naturally found in the digestive tract of humans, it also acts as an effective probiotic.
As the authors of the article Role of Lactobacillus reuteri in Human Health and Diseases stated, its probiotic benefits include “promoting health, reducing infections, enhancing the absorption of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, modulating host immune responses, promoting gut mucosal integrity, and reducing bacterial translocation.”
L. reuteri, in essence, stops damaging materials, including bacteria and viruses, from crossing from the gut lumen and entering the body, where it can cause inflammation and infection. Plus, it enhances the production and absorption of nutrients we need to function optimally. These are crucial benefits, especially in our current pandemic climate. Because these two changes are profoundly important for a well functioning immune system, let’s look at them in more detail.The complex gut lining is designed to act as a funnel to potentially toxic material, including viruses and bacteria. The result is these harmful items pass through the digestive system and onto their final expulsion. If a substance is essential, though, the single cell wide lining allows its passage; enabling it to cross and enter our body proper.
When this finely tuned process goes awry, harmful substances can be absorbed rather than eliminated. Viruses and bacteria can traverse, increasing infection and inflammation. This increased permeability is known as leaky gut.
Probiotic supplementation with L. reuteri has been shown to decrease intestinal permeability; to reverse a leaky gut. Importantly, it also produces anti-microbial substances that kill foreign invaders, reducing the movement of infective agents into our body.
To the second point, L. reuteri produces vitamins B9 and B12. B9, also known as folate or folic acid, and B12 play pivotal roles in natural killer cell function. These are the cells that engulf invaders like Pac Man devouring his favourite ghosts. They’re also important for T cell, or white blood cell, function. When deficiency occurs, decreased resistance to infection results.
Through various mechanisms, Lactobacillus reuteri plays a key role in supporting health and protecting against infection. Now is the ideal time to begin harnessing its microscopic power through supplementation.